Discrimination Against Big People

Discrimination against big people can result from a naive understanding of obesity as a simple matter of size and weight. But increasingly, the AMA ruling that obesity is a disease is leading employment law experts to warn business that discriminating against people because of their size is a risky practice.

Claudia Center of the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center sees a trend emerging:

People are slowly starting to come forward. The trend is people are starting to see this as a civil rights issue, which advocates have been arguing for decades.

Even before the AMA ruling, the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opened the way for more discrimination claims related to obesity. Prior to this amendment, the technical definition of a disability was much narrower and made claims related to obesity much more difficult. Since the amendments, significant rulings against employers discriminating against people with obesity have received much attention.

In one, a forklift operator was fired after requesting a seat belt extender for his forklift. In another, a federal court ruled against a school district that judged a probationary teacher as “too big and sloppy” to be hired for a permanent position.

With the attention the AMA ruling has brought to obesity as a disease, employers will have to change their practices. Says Center:

They may be used to the old regime, where most of these kinds of cases were thrown out. But they’re going to have to get up to speed.

Beth Slagel, an employment law attorney with Meyer, Unkovic, and Scott, sums it up, saying:

You can’t discriminate against someone based on the color of their skin, and you can’t discriminate against them for their size.

Click here to read more in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and here to read more from the Professional Liability Underwriting Society.

High Five, photograph © Melanie Holtsman / flickr

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